Lesson Plan on Cells & Building a Cell Project: Hands On Learning

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Creating a Cell Project: Lesson Plan

Studying animal and plant cells is a wonderful way for students to understand life at its most basic level. No matter how complex or simple the organism all plants and animals are made up of cells - from the microscopic single celled paramecium to the hundreds of billions of skin, bone, nerve and muscle cells that make up you. Yet when viewing cells under a microscope, or looking at slides or pictures, it may be difficult to grasp the cell is a three dimensional unit capable of carrying out all of life processes all on its own. All cells have the ability to metabolize food for energy, respond to the environment as well as grow and reproduce. Building a cell model not only clarifies this concept for students but also provides hands on learning of a cell’s individual components, their functions and how they work together as a system. During the lesson, keep in mind the following learning objectives:

- Compare and contrast structures of plant and animal cells

- Identify various parts of the cell in slides, pictures, and/or lab models

- Demonstrate your knowledge of the cell as a basic unit of life by constructing a three dimensional model of a plant or animal cell and identifying its components and functions.

Plant or Animal

Begin your lesson plan by introducing the two main types of cells: the plant cell and the animal cell. If you have access to microscopes, make plant cell slides by placing bits of lettuce leaf on slides. For animal cells, have students use the flat end of a toothpick to scrape the inside of their cheek for cells. Dob the toothpick in a small droplet of water on the slide. Place a cover slip over both lettuce leaf and cheek cell slide samples and view under the microscope. Have your students sketch a drawing of what they see. They should be able to see and label the nucleus, cell membrane, and cytoplasm for both samples as well as the cell wall for the lettuce leaf slide.

Point out what animal and plant cells have in common and how they are different. For example, both contain a nucleus, cytoplasm, a cell membrane and genetic material for reproduction. Next, emphasize their differences. Plant cells are square shaped, have a cell wall and use chloroplasts to make glucose for food. By contrast, animal cells are round, do not have a cell wall and use mitochondria to generate ATP from food for energy.

Cell Parts and Functions

The components of the cell work together to carry out the functions of life. Introduce the individual components, pointing them out on pictures, models or slides. Then divide the class into groups of two or three students. Give each group a slip of paper labeled with a particular cell organelle. Have each group explain to the class the following: Would you find this cell component in a plant or animal cell or both? What is this organelle’s function and how does it help the cell? What would happen if this component was missing from the cell? For example, the cell membrane is found in both plants and animals, lies on the outer boundary of the cell and controls the movement of materials in and out of the cell. Without a cell membrane, its contents would leak out and harmful substances could get in.

Building a Model

Build a three dimensional cell model. Materials may be edible or nonedible. They can include large styrofoam spheres (pre-cut half spheres can be obtained from a craft store) or a shoebox for the cell shell, colored or plain playdough or clear gelatin for the cytoplasm, colored chenille sticks (pipecleaners), puff balls, buttons, yarn, pasta and other items to represent the cellular components. Encourage the students to be creative and use lots of different material in their model and that they should choose items to accurately represent each organelle in size, shape, and location. Have them follow these guidelines for the project:

1. Choose a plant or animal cell.

2. Make a list of components you would find in your cell. A plant cell would contain a cell wall, cell membrane, cytoplasm, nucleus, DNA, ribosomes, chloroplasts, Endoplasmic reticulum (smooth and rough), golgi complex, ribosomes, lysosomes, and vacuoles. An animal cell would contain a cell membrane, cytoplasm, nucleus, DNA, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum (smooth and rough), ribosomes, golgi complex,ribosomes, lysosomes, and vacuoles. Select different materials to represent each of the organelles present in that cell. Shape and size the material to realistically resemble the organelle. Place each in its appropriate location in cell body.

3. Label each of the components. Print out organelle names, cut them into small labels and use toothpicks to attach to each label with some tape.

4. Create a separate key that shows each of the cell components and describes its function in the cell.

5. Use the cell grading rubric to get maximum points for your project.

Cell Grading Rubric

Grading rubric will look at the following qualities of your cell model:

Creativity and Design

- Animal or plant cell model is appropriate shape. Animal cells are round and plant cells are square.

- Construction is a 3-D model using four or more different media/materials. The model must be 3-D and not a drawing. Materials may be edible or nonedible. Be creative in choosing materials. Use your imagination and look for things around the house (buttons, chennile sticks, dried pasta, yarn, playdough, gelatin, candy of different shapes and sizes)

- Care is taken to choose materials that accurately represent each cellular component in shape, size and location in cell. For example, the mitochondria and chloroplasts are kidney-bean shaped and are roughly the a quarter of the size of the nucleus. The nucleus is round, located in the center of the cell body and should be the largest organelle in the cell model.


- Cell components for that particular cell (plant or animal) are present with none missing. Components are accurate as well. For example, mitochondria are found in animal cells but chloroplasts are found in plant cells.

- Cell components are labeled appropriately

- Separate key lists cellular components and their functions

Extra points for the following:

- Create a particular type of animal cell (muscle, nerve, bone, blood) with accurate representation of cellular components. Example: skeletal muscle cells have many nuclei; red blood cells have none because their nuclei pop out before entering the blood stream from the bone marrow.

- On a separate piece of paper give a simple explanation for photosynthesis and state which organelle is involved with this process.

Create a Stand for Cell Model

You may use a paper towel roll with tape or the top from a gift box to place your cell model on. You will want to tape or glue the bottom of your model to reduce wobbling and make it secure.

Cell Component Checklist

Animal Cells:

- cytoskeleton

-cell membrane




-endoplasmic reticulum (smooth and rough)



-golgi apparatus

-ribosomes (on ER as well as free floating ribosomes in the cytoplasm)




Plant Cell:

-Cell wall

-Cell membrane


- centriole




- endoplasmic reticulum (smooth and rough ER)

-golgi apparatus

- ribosomes (on ER as well as free floating in cytoplasm)

-chloroplasts (remember to make the chloroplasts green since they are filled with chlorophyll)



Study Hint:

After learning the anatomy of the cell and its components, research the functions of each part. Quiz yourself or work with a study buddy to help you remember the functions. You will be expected to provide a key that describes the functions of each component on your cell model.